Blair turned up at the bus station without a penny in her pocket, and unfortunately you needed more than a few of those to get a ticket. "You don't understand," she explained earnestly to the uninterested man behind the glass, hauling her cathedral veil out of the dirt and looping it over her arm. "I've got to get the hell out of here. I'm good for it, I swear, just – well, not at the moment."
The man blinked at her long and slow like a basset hound. Blair was not a dog lover. "No tickets for free, miss."
Blair huffed and hemmed for a long moment then grinned at him in total triumph. She twisted off her diamond engagement ring, holding it out so it glinted winningly in the light. "Will this do?"
Blair should have known it wouldn't be that easy. One couldn't flee their own wedding with total disregard and jump on a bus heading west without facing a few consequences. It had been long enough that people at the reception had certainly cottoned on to the fact that she wasn't just off powdering her nose, and wandering around in a full length beaded ivory gown was already gathering stares. It wasn't practical and Blair needed to be practical right now, loathe as she found the entire concept. It pushed her to desperate measures: she traded her wedding gown to the first girl she eyed in her size, accepting a hideously workaday brown dress in exchange. It had been shoved in the very bottom of the girl's carry-on, and for good reason.
But Blair had suffered for love before, so she could damn well suffer for freedom.
Waking up drooling on a wool sport coat was not the next move Blair had planned but it was the one she unfortunately ended up making. She came awake blearily, eyelashes heavy with sleep and mascara, and rubbed the heel of her hand over the corner of her mouth.
"Lipstick," said an amused voice.
Blair looked up to see the owner of the jacket staring at her, obviously entertained by the drowsy heiress on his shoulder. She frowned at him. "Your coat is cheap," she declared. "You've practically disfigured me." She petted at her cheek, which was scored with sleep lines.
His amusement only grew. He was a young man whose cheap suit did nothing to distract from his good looks, though it didn't exactly help them either. "I don't remember forcing you to use it as your pillow."
"You certainly made yourself available," she informed him loftily.
He laughed (though Blair had most certainly not been telling a joke) but, as she wriggled herself away from him, very disgruntled, his laughter faded and he looked at her a little closer. "Hey, aren't you –"
"I have no idea what you mean," Blair said firmly, frown deepening.
"You're not that girl that split from her wedding?" he said. "Back in New York?"
"I'm not the sort of person who skips out on prior engagements. How did you hear of such a thing anyway?"
"It's my job to know," he told her. "I'm a reporter."
Snootily, Blair said, "Yes, well, you certainly have a face for print."
When the bus pulled into a rest stop Blair couldn't get off it fast enough. In the dim, dingy light of the little bathroom she looked worse off than she had the morning after her cotillion when she drank too much champagne; worse than when Nate Archibald broke her heart and she cried for three days; worse than sleepless nights chasing after Serena. Going on the run didn't agree with her. It would almost be worth becoming an unwilling princess if it meant she had her powder and lipstick on hand.
Evidently she spent too long feeling sorry for herself and trying to fluff her waning curls, because when she got back out the bus was long, long gone. "But I told the driver to wait!" she announced indignantly.
A now-familiar wry voice answered her. "He's not your personal chauffeur, Miss Waldorf."
"Oh, what do you know, Mr. –" But then his words came back to her and Blair spun to face him, eyes widening. "What do you mean by that?"
His eyebrows lifted. "That bus drivers don't take orders from huffy socialites," he said. "Was that difficult to understand? I thought it was a rather simple joke, almost cliché."
She sighed loudly, aggravated. "No, you idiot. That Miss Waldorf business."
"Well, it's your name, isn't it?"
"Never you mind that." She gave him a last glare before returning her gaze, now forlorn, to the recently vacated bus. "Oh, what am I going to do?"
"There's another bus." He waited for hope to rise in her face, then added, "In twelve hours. In that time, you may want to do some light reading." He flipped up the newspaper in his hand so that she could see the headline: HAPPILY NEVER AFTER: PRINCESS FLEES WEDDING. "You're more hunted than the man topping the most wanted list."
Blair snatched the paper so she could scan the article, stomach sinking with every word. At this rate she would never get to Serena out in California before her family caught up with her. Then she refocused on her unintended companion, eyes narrowing. "Hey, now, you're not after some scoop are you? Skinny bookish types like you are always after scoops. Well, you're not getting it, you hear me? You're not going to tell my parents or Louis or anyone where I am."
"I'm not?" he said mildly. "Good to know. I wasn't planning on it, by the way." He took the paper back and folded it up, set it aside, then crossed his arms. He studied her, gaze plain. "What I want is your story. Exclusive. A day-to-day account all about your mad flight from a loveless marriage. The runaway princess."
"Cliché," Blair told him.
"It'll sell like gangbusters," he said, smiling a little. "And I could use it. Flat broke."
"I know," she said. "Your suit."
He ignored that. "And in return I'll help you. Nothing funny. I'll get you wherever you want to go, and no one will catch us doing it. Then you'll give my career a little boost in return. What do you say?"
Blair looked at him, unimpressed. "Do you have a name?"
"A name. Have you got one?"
"Dan Humphrey," he said.
"Hm. I don't like it." Blair turned on her heel and began to stalk off. "Are you coming?"
Hours later, bedraggled on the roadside and hitching for a ride, Blair came to regret being so easily swindled by a handsome idiot. Fool her once, shame on them; fool her twice, Blair was an idiot herself.
But then Dan looked back at her, hat set at a damn near rakish angle on his head, and grinned. And Blair knew for sure that she had certainly gotten herself into trouble.